Money Lessons from Spanish Harlem


I was talking recently with a new friend of mine.  We’d just met and she’d heard about our book and aHelicopter Parents (1)sked me to explain it to her.  When I finished she said she wanted to tell me a story.

“I used to be a middle school teacher in Spanish Harlem.  It was a rough job.  Some days I was thankful just to get home at night, you know?  But the kids were awesome and I knew that in order to get through to them I needed to let them know that I cared.  So I’d often ask them about their home lives.  I’d sit up on my desk and just talk to them about local events, things in the news – I’d ask them their opinions on things.  After awhile they got really comfortable talking with me and we got into great conversations.

I remember one day that the subject of money came up.  I can’t remember exactly how it started, but eventually we got around to allowances.  Now, this was not a well-to-do neighborhood by any stretch and I was truly curious about how these kids felt about money.  So I asked them if they got an allowance.

‘Sure,” they said.  ‘We get an allowance.’  One kid puffed up his chest and said, ‘My mom puts money in my checking account every month.’

‘So, how much do you get each month?’ I asked.

‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s different each month depending on what kind of money my mom has coming in.’

‘If you don’t know how much you’re getting, how do you know how much you can spend?’

The kid looked at me like I was nuts. ‘I spend until my card quits working,’ he said.

‘But if your mom doesn’t know how much she’ll make each month, how does she know how much she can give you?’

‘She spends until her card quits working too.  She gives me money first, though.’

‘And what do you spend your money on?’

‘Whatever I want.  She doesn’t care so much what I spend it on as long as I’m not asking her for stuff. ‘

‘What do you have to do to get the money?  What types of chores do you do?’

“Tracie,” she said. “This is what we’re up against in this country.  Sure, that was Spanish Harlem, but I don’t think the story is that much different anywhere across the country.  Kids seem to have this idea that they can simply spend until the money is gone.  Where are they learning this?  From their parents.”

That story has stuck with me for months.  It comes to mind every single time I think about the fact that there are other ways I could spend my time besides writing this blog and working on re-writes for the book.  It comes to mind every time a parent tells me that they think our program sounds like too much work or that they are too embarrassed about their own financial situation to try to teach their kids basic money lessons.  It comes to mind when I see parents buying every single thing a young child wants for Christmas because they feel like it is their duty to do so.

I’m worried.  I’m worried that we are raising another generation of Americans who believe it’s “normal” to keep spending until their card doesn’t work anymore.  I’m worried that there are many people in our world today who don’t understand exactly what it means when the card no longer works and I’m worried that no one else seems to think this is a big deal.

What about you?  Does this worry you?  What are you doing to make sure your own kids are different?  What are you doing to make sure other kids you know understand basic money principles?  Because this isn’t just about our own kids anymore, this is about our financial stability as a nation.  What are you doing to help financially educate today’s kids?

Help us to help you...
We'd love to help you teach your kids about money!